California Court Considers Combining Lawsuits Related to Solar Roof Pricing Into Class Action Suit

A California judge is considering combining several lawsuits related to hikes in Tesla’s Solar Roof pricing into a single class action suit. These lawsuits are spread across the country, including at least eight lawsuits filed in a US District Court in the Northern District of California and another in Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits have pushed for a class action lawsuit in order to better coordinate efforts.

The lawsuits were sparked by a sudden increase in Solar Roof pricing after the customers had already signed contracts setting the price of their new Solar Roof installations. Tesla had given these customers only the option of signing new contracts agreeing to the new pricing or cancelling and getting their deposits back. The company also said that they could lose their place in the queue to have their roof installed if they did not pay the new price promptly. The plaintiffs called this a classic “bait and switch” tactic and complained about poor customer service from Tesla after the unexpected price hike.

The attorney for a Pennsylvania couple whose Solar Roof unexpectedly rose in price from $46,084.80 to $78,352.66 after they had signed the contract also serves as co-counsel for one of the Californian cases. “We seek nationwide relief,” he said of the matter.

Elon Musk admitted in an earnings call that Tesla had made “significant mistakes” with its Solar Roof installations that led to cost overruns and delays. He said that the final price could depend on several variables such as the roof’s ability to support the solar tiles and the complexity of each installation job. However, that was not enough to satisfy members of the Tesla Motors Club forum, who complained about the price hikes and began discussing lawsuits soon after they got the email saying that the price had gone up.

One forum member commented on the Return on Investment of a solar rooftop, especially for people who don’t live in the southernmost regions of the United States: “These cost models put me well over 30, approaching 35 years for theoretical investment recovery.”

On the flip side, one commenter on the website Electrek attempted to defend Tesla by saying that the feasibility of solar installations can be impacted by poorly thought-out rooftop design: “These cheesy McMansions all have absurd rooflines with superfluous undulations that make it hard to find space for more than 2 or three panels.”

It may be reasonable to assume, however, that most consumers who are interested in Tesla’s solar rooftops don’t have “cheesy McMansions.” While a few did indicate that they could afford the price increases, they wondered whether it would be cost-effective to actually have theirs installed.

Tesla’s changes to solar rooftop pricing also include a switch from selling Powerwalls as an optional add-on to bundling them into new sales of solar roofs. This may be part of Tesla’s plans to build a “distributed power plant” that can turn homes into mini-power generators that can reduce the risk of power failures such as the failure of Texas’ power grid last winter or California’s rolling blackouts. Elon Musk has made comments implying that he intended to eliminate “single points of failure” in power grids.

The presiding judge, Lucy H. Koh, issued a court order stating that she would consider combining two of the cases in California that had petitioned for a class-action suit. Experts such as Vanderbilt Law School Professor Brian Fitzpatrick, author of “The Conservative Case for Class Actions,” say that the court order was reasonable, considering that the two cases are similar. Otherwise, says Fitzpatrick, “multiple judges could end up reinventing wheels in similar cases.” He indicated that the process could take time because class action lawsuits require a “rigorous” process of discovery.